The date of my ordination to the priesthood is fast approaching. December 17th will see me in Trinity Episcopal Church in Winchester TN preparing to receive the laying on of hands by a Bishop in apostolic succession, making me a Priest in Christ’s One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Needless to say this has inspired increased reflection on my part as to what ordination means…not that I haven’t been reflecting for quite some time about what this event actually means. I spent three years in seminary reflecting a great deal of the time about what it would mean to one day reach this point. My classmates and I talked about it amongst ourselves and with professors–we prayed about it–we wrote about it (you can see one of my attempts at explanation of the priesthood here). The current state of the Church in general and the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in particular certainly lead to a great deal of reflection upon the meaning of ordination, of being called out and set apart as leader within and for the Body of Christ. Indeed, one would have to live in a dream-world not to see that the meaning of the oaths that we take as clergy are becoming more and more hotly debated as the tensions of our conflict increase (just consider the recent exchange of letters between Bishop Schori and Bishop Schofield in San Joaquin). In these times of uncertainty though, I take heart first in the words of scripture. In bible study last week, these words from 2 Timothy stood out to me:
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…
I highlight two sections of this passage, the first leads me to reflect anew on the idea of an “ontological” change involved in ordination, the second to the charge given to every Christian to not be ashamed of the gospel, the “testimony about our Lord,” without which all our efforts are pointless. Does God convey his spirit through the laying on of hands in ordination? Certainly I believe so, though I also believe that this is not a mechanical act and that, inasmuch as we seek God in faith and ask for more of his spirit, we will receive it, each of us in accordance with our needs and callings. For some it will come in the form of the laying on of hands in the act of ordination wherein God has promised to equip those whom he calls.
Finally, given the state of the Anglican Communion, some would rightly question what it is that I’m being ordained into at this time. Needless to say I take great comfort in the preface to the ordination services which says, among other things, that:
It is also recognized and affirmed that the threefold ministry is not the exclusive property of this portion of Christ’s catholic Church, but is a gift from God for the nurture of his people and the proclamation of his Gospel everywhere.
This preface, which has been a part of the ordinal since the very first Book of Common Prayer, is of great comfort
to me, and I’m sure others who have concerns about where some would take the Episcopal Church and what their interpretations of the churches doctrine and discipline are. This preface affirms the understanding that, no more than a person is baptized into one denomination or sect–baptism being a universal mark of faith–can they be ordained into one small expression of the Christian family…rather they (we) are ordained into the order shared by Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, St. Augustine and many others… in other words the ordination service is not and cannot be made sectarian, and our own ecclesiastical conflicts cannot affect that. I (and the other three deacons who will be ordained on the 16th at St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville) will be priests in the One Holy Catholic and Apostlic Church fulfilling our ministries within the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, but we will not be priests by virtue of the Episcopal Church, but rather by virtue of the Church universal–and that is a blessing.